The Tweed Coast Koala Advisory Group met for the first time last week and was presented with alarming results from a scientific study of local koala populations.

The group was formed to guide the development of a comprehensive Koala Plan of Management (CKPoM) to address growing concerns in the community and Tweed Shire Council about dwindling koala numbers.

The project aims to establish the current distribution, status and future prospects for koalas on the Tweed Coast and provide a CKPoM consistent with State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) 44 and state and national koala recovery plans.

Ecological consultant Dr Stephen Phillips from Biolink presented a progress report on a Tweed Coast Koala Habitat Study (commissioned by Council with funding support from the Department of Environment Climate Change and Water) which found that the range and numbers of koalas had declined substantially in recent years.

“All evidence points to a relatively recent escalation in the rate of range contraction and decrease in occupancy rate that now places the long-term viability of the Tweed Coast koalas in real jeopardy,” Dr Phillips said.

He advised that the proposed CKPoM would need to ‘actively and aggressively engage population protection, management and recovery as the security for the remaining source populations is vital’.

Dr Phillips said the causes of decline and ongoing threats to the remaining populations are: habitat fragmentation, fire, the limited opportunity for koalas to migrate from other areas, dogs and motor vehicles.

Group member Lorraine Vass said Dr Phillips confirmed what other committee members thought – that coastal koalas in the Tweed are in dire trouble,

“However, we have the tools and the community support to turn the situation around and every member of the group is keen to get on with job,” Ms Vass said.

Tweed Council’s Biodiversity Program Leader Dr Mark Kingston said the Koala Habitat Study was the first comprehensive and scientifically-based study of koalas on the Tweed Coast since the Tweed Coast Koala Habitat Atlas, which was completed in the mid 1990s.

“Although the results paint a bleak picture, we need to know what we’re dealing with so we can act appropriately to protect and encourage the remaining koala populations into the future,” Dr Kingston said.

Dr Kingston said he anticipated the CKPoM would take about a year to prepare and the next step was to finalise the Koala Habitat Study which will provide the science necessary to underpin the CKPoM.

“In the meantime council will continue to carefully scrutinise any development proposals in or near areas of koala habitat and support habitat restoration projects and other works designed to improve the prospects for koalas in the Shire,” he said.

The full results of the Koala Habitat Study will be presented to a Council meeting in the next three months.